How well do you really know your relatives?


If your life is in imminent danger because a tornado is heading your way and you have just minutes to find a secure spot in your home and hunker down would you first….

a. Rush two flights up to locate your Nintendo DS and all your favorite games because it’s always 100% charged and that can be handy if the entire town loses power for a week like it did the last time a tornado hit our town.
b. Grab a four series stack of Star Wars books—in case the tornado blows away the house, you’ll still have solid reading material until help arrives.
c. Continue to watch the PGA Golf tournament because golf is such a nail-biting sport that clearly rivals a tornado for excitement.
d. Drag the largest beanie bag in the house down to the basement so the dog can ride out the storm in comfort
… before you high-tail it to the basement and lock yourself in an interior room with no windows.

I am constantly discovering what my family considers more precious than their lives or any of ours for that matter.

Genre: High Drama
Setting: House in semi-rural town in Northern Colorado
Time: Mid-afternoon in the summer of 2013
Characters: Comatose husband, drama-queen daughter, college-bound first born, neurotic youngest son, loyal canine companion, and long suffering wife/mother

“There’s a tornado headed our way,” my oldest announces. “A tornado has been spotted three miles east of Windsor!”

On the radio, Garrison Keeler is still waxing poetic on A Prairie Home Companion. What are the chances that they won’t interrupt regular programming to announce something as serious as a tornado? But one look at my high strung college bound child and my equally neurotic middle-schooler has me convinced that it merits a look out the window at the very least. Outside, the sky is still a reassuring blue, the bunnies are foraging on the lawn, and even Zephyr, our resident weather gauge, is resting languidly on the sofa.

But sure enough to the east there’s a funnel cloud forming. Ok. This time their combined neurosis is justified.

“Round up the family and hit the basement,” I shout commando style. Mentally, I try to locate the other two members of my family. So, it’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday— that only means one thing: my husband is comatose on the basement couch. Second-born, only darling daughter, is in her room upstairs getting through her summer reading; How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

Two manic minutes later, tethered to the Z-Man, I pause mid-stride in front of the basement couch. Instead of directing traffic toward the only secure room in the basement (the bathroom), my husband is still Velcro-ed to the couch, watching the PGA tournament with the kind of intensity golf just doesn’t deserve. Still, it’s a foreshadowing of what’s to come—golf ball size hail. Outside, the wind picks up and the windows in our walk-out basement begin to receive a lashing from the rain.

“Where the heck are the kids?” I ask.

My youngest limps into the room, clutching his Nintendo DS and all his favorite games in one hand and dragging an enormous beanie bag with the other. My oldest brings up the rear, triumphantly holding a laundry basket filled to the brim with photo albums, and four books in the Star Wars series.

“Guys, this is not standard operating procedure! You realize all of this stuff is replaceable?” Why isn’t anyone taking this seriously?

“The author of this book I’m reading, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, wants us to write a sex scene,” my daughter says to break the tension. “In the interest of good taste, he figures we should limit ourselves to members of the same species and for clarity, limit ourselves to a pair of participants.”


Epilog: The tornado was a false alarm; it dissipated and never touched ground and I made a mental note to talk to the teacher who made that book required summer reading.


Genre: High Drama
Setting: Exterior, near an overgrown Christmas tree in semi-rural town in Northern Colorado
Time: Late evening in the fall of 2014
Characters: Super hero husband, skeptical 14 year-old son, long-suffering wife
Props: ladder, shears

“The insurance guy wants us to trim the evergreen in front of the house,” my husband announces. “Says it’s a fire hazard because it’s too close to a structure.”

“So what are you waiting for? Cut it!”

“Easy for you to say,” he pouts. “I’m the one climbing up a ladder with nothing but grit and a pair of shears.”

“If anyone can do it, it’s you,” I tell him, to boost his flagging confidence. In his defense, he’s had to climb a 32 foot ladder every year for the past 13 years to fill holes made in our exterior walls by twisted freak birds. (READ Dances with Penguins for more on this) It’s an event that requires planning and the help of two able-bodied youngsters and the rest of the family shouting words of encouragement and attempts at levity (speculating on who would be the beneficiaries of his life insurance policy).

But trimming an evergreen doesn’t rival the dangers and complexity of filling holes 32 feet high, so I shutter sympathy and give him a strong cup of coffee instead.

“There that should take care of your jitters,” I say. “You’re my hero, no question!” And send him off to do the needed.

But from the muted cussing coming through an open window I gather Operation Trim-a- Christmas-Tree isn’t going well. I decide to check it out for myself. The tree is turning out to be a formidable foe. Armed with three inch long needles that could pierce through clothing with ease, the evergreen is not willing to surrender. Every sharp, spiny arm he cuts down ricochets into his face. Overhead, older limbs sprinkle their dry needles on his head in a show of brotherhood. Outraged at having their abode disturbed, aphids and mites—the tree’s long-term tenants—alight on his head and clothing. Sadly for my husband, the ladder too is showing signs of sympathy and defects to the enemy’s camp.

My youngest and I watch this amazing tour du force, this joining of like-minds to oppose a common foe. We are struck by the thought that the tree he set out to maim (on insurance guy’s instructions—let’s not forget the real bad guy here), ended up saving him. As he flew off the ladder and slid down the tree, each limb broke his fall and handed him carefully to the limb below, until he reached the very bottom and stood up stunned but unharmed by the fall.

We dust him down and gush, “And it all happened in slow motion. While you were sliding down the tree, I could’ve gone into the house and grabbed a camcorder,” I tell him.

“How about I fall off the ladder one more time so you can take a picture?”

“You’d do that for me?”


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